'We won't forget the support but we long for home'

time:2023-05-29 13:16:08 source:Al Jazeera

Eight million Ukrainians have been displaced across Europe as a result of Russia's invasion, with families being torn apart.

Shortly after the fighting began, hundreds of Londoners responded to calls for help - opening their homes to the 80,000 people arriving in the UK having fled with virtually nothing.

One such family was Celia and Steve Quartermain from Leyton, east London. They took in Anastasiia Medolyz, her husband and their six-year-old son.

Unlike most refugees, Ms Medolyz, 32, was lucky to already know her host family well as she had stayed with them during an exchange programme in 2005.

After touring London and Yorkshire as a teenager with her school choir, her thoughts often turned to when she would return to the UK, but looking back now, she says she "couldn't have imagined I'd ever be here for this reason".

Ms Medolyz had only just begun a new media job in Kyiv when her husband urged the family to flee the city and head west.

"We had heard that the Russian army was at the border but I didn't want to believe it," she says.

"At five in the morning we woke up to loud explosions, my husband looked out the window and saw a rocket destroy an area near the home of one of my friends. In 10 minutes we woke up our child, got in our car, and drove west for seven hours."

She adds they "tried to pick up my grandmother on the way but her town was already under Russian control and cut off from electricity, water, gas or anything".

Having escaped Ukraine, it took the family three weeks to find a volunteer who could reunite her grandmother with Ms Medolyz's mother safely back in Kyiv.

"This volunteer is now in Russian captivity," she says. "I only found out when I tried to message him and a Russian soldier wrote back from his phone."

Ms Quartermain was communicating with Ms Medolyz when she first heard about the invasion.

The Leyton resident explained that Ms Medolyz was sending them updates as they bundled into a car and made their way west to Lviv, worried about getting captured.

The pair decided to stay in touch "and I said to her at the time that if she could get out, we'd help her", Ms Quartermain says.

The family eventually arrived in east London in July last year and spent six months with the Quartermains before moving into a flat of their own nearby.

Ms Medolyz now works for an education agency while her son has settled in well at the local primary school. She believes her family has a good life.

Yet despite this, she still longs for her home country.

"When the war ends and Ukraine wins, I want to go home and support my country and live and work in my native city, but I will always remember everything this country has done for Ukrainians," she says.

"On one hand you need to support yourself and your family and do everything you can to survive. But on the other you are worried about your relatives, your friends in Ukraine.

"It's a strange feeling for Ukrainians, now a lot of doors are open in different countries, but the only door you want to open is the one that takes you home."

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